<
>

Give U.S. the edge Thursday

10/7/2009 - Golf

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before last year's Ryder Cup, captains seemed to own all of the importance of first-base coaches -- which is to say, other than filling out a lineup card or offering a pat on the butt every so often, they have had very little effect on the overall outcome.

As far as that role goes, though, Paul Azinger was Dick Fosbury, Bobby Orr and Wilt Chamberlain all rolled into one. He changed the game.

At Valhalla, Azinger developed a strategy of placing his players into three four-man groups -- pods, if you will -- in which each man could be paired with any of the other three in the four sessions of team competition. It was a strategy that worked to perfection, as the guys in red, white and blue used the team-within-a-team concept en route to a triumph for the first time this decade.

Curiously, U.S. captain Fred Couples has neglected to emulate such a plan for this week's Presidents Cup, though he'll hardly be picking out of a hat when pairing players for these matches. As Justin Leonard said before the twosomes were announced, "Our practice round pairings were certainly not a blind draw."

When Couples offered his pairings for Thursday's foursomes matches -- in a back-and-forth, fantasy-draft-style format with International captain Greg Norman -- he included three teams (Phil Mickelson-Anthony Kim, Lucas Glover-Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk-Leonard) that have been paired previously in team competitions.

Overall, the dozen American players have an average world ranking of 16.5, with 22 total major championships, compared with a 34.7 average ranking for their counterparts with nine fewer major titles. But how do they break down on Thursday? Let's examine all six matches:

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.